Following up on my previous 5 Tips to Become a Better Process Server, here are four more tips that may help you out regardless of your level of experience.
1) Be Digitally Organized
Hopefully you have a ton of cases you need to serve and you must have a good way to keep track of everything. Everyone has their own preferences as to the software they choose to use for their own personal organization. My number one tool for keeping all my serves organized is ServeManager through the ServeNow network. This software is simply amazing.
As soon as you get a new case in, enter all the information into the ServeManager software about the case, the defendant to serve, your client and billing information. From this point you can quickly log every service attempt from the field using your smartphone which includes capturing your GPS coordinates. You can automatically email status updates and attempt details to your client. You can also correspond easily with any other process servers you delegate work to. I also use ServeManager to generate and track my invoices and payments. You can seamlessly switch from using this web-based software from your desktop and mobile devices while in the field. This is a great time-saver for me and I can’t recommend this software enough.
2) Be Physically Organized
In this business there’s no way around accumulating a bunch of paperwork over time. You must keep track of all your documents you have printed that need to be served, invoices and receipts to be mailed, notes you make and any necessary supplies such as paper clips, pens, envelopes and notepads. I recently upgraded the passenger seat of my vehicle which used to serve as my mobile office storage space to include a nice flip top box file organizer. In this box I keep copies of the papers I am actively trying to serve, extra pens, paper clips, envelopes, file folders, scotch tape for posting notices, and a couple paperback books to read while doing stakeouts (I’m currently working my way through The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People again).
3) Document Everything
Sometimes the job is not done when you serve the papers. Defendants will try to weasel out of the case by claiming to the court that they were not properly served and you will need to present notes, photos, audio, video or your testimony that service was completed as you described. Sometimes this issue comes up months after you actually serve the papers. You need to be able to dig back through your records and provide the best information you can to make sure a defendant is not successful in arguing invalid service.
First research the laws in your state regarding collecting audio and video evidence as you attempt service. My favorite tool at the moment for capturing video and audio of a serve is the Looxcie 2 Bluetooth headset video recorder. I use this excellent device as a Bluetooth headset for taking calls while driving and when I’m attempting a serve I can record a good quality video of exactly what happens.
Check out a couple recent videos of serves I completed to people trying to avoid being served. They were recorded in a public place with no expectation of privacy for the defendant and without identifying the defendant. These videos were recorded using the Looxcie 2 headset cam. After a day of serving, I dump all the video files from the device to my computer and archive all the video evidence for future reference.
Another great tool for when recording video is not appropriate is a voice recorder app for your smartphone. I use an Android device and I prefer an app called Tape-A-Talk. Simply hit record, put the phone in your shirt pocket, and you will capture the audio of what goes down while you are attempting service. Again, make sure you comply with your state’s laws regarding audio gathering.
Keeping written notes is also very important. Document anything screwy that happened, details about vehicles, descriptions of people you contacted, etc. You will eventually encounter a defendant who tries to lie in court to get your service thrown out and it is crucial that you are able to dig back through your records and present further evidence to the court that you did your job properly. This will make your client extremely happy and show that you are a true pro who knows the business.
4) Sometimes You Have to Lie
I despise dishonesty and I strive for perfect transparency and honesty in my personal life. However, I will lie through my teeth in order to get a defendant served, if necessary.
Every case is different and you must approach each serve based on the information you have about the defendant and based on the type of situation you encounter when attempting service. Here is a good trick I used on a recent serve to get the job done.
I was hired to serve a small claims case to a lady in an apartment building but my client had no idea what she looked like, what she drove, and was not 100% sure she even lived in the apartment. Knowing this, I figured that my first contact with whoever was in the apartment would be my best shot at determining whether the defendant lived there.
Before I left my office, I printed an envelope addressed to the defendant (let’s call her Jane Smith) from a made-up name and address. I even put a 1 cent stamp on the envelope to make it appear as legitimate mail for the defendant. When I knocked on the door, a lady answered and here’s what happened:
Me: Hello, I’m your neighbor downstairs in #3. I got this piece of mail for Jane Smith at this unit and wanted to make sure it got to the right person.
Defendant: Oh, great! I’m Jane Smith. The mail here has been so screwy lately, thank you!
Me: Actually ma’am, I am a process server and I’ve got small claims papers I’ve been hired to serve to you.
Defendant: You S.O.B., you lied to me! You are a jerk, scum of the earth, etc. etc. etc.
Me: You are served. Have a nice day.
In one attempt I was able to identify the defendant, get her to confirm her identity and get her to take the papers with no opportunity for her to lie to me and try to avoid service. My client was stoked and I maximized my profit.
I hope these tips get you thinking about how you approach your own serves and steps you can put in place to increase your efficiency and success rate!